Downtown Soccer League Honors Its 'Heart and Soul,' Manny D'Almeida

On the Battery Park City ball fields, Manny d'Almeida acknowledges the applause of Downtown Soccer League players and parents during the ceremony honoring him on. Saturday, Nov. 21. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Nov. 25, 2020

The Downtown Soccer League bid a bittersweet farewell on Saturday to its beloved coach, ref, and mentor to countless kids, Manny d’Almeida. 

To the sustained applause of players, coaches and parents who had assembled on the field and, for social distancing sake, outside the field fence, d’Almeida put a hand to his heart as he accepted the appreciation of a league he has served for 21 years. The recognition came two days before the honoree, whose trim and vigorous presence belies his 81 years, would be moving to Scottsdale, Ariz., to be with family.

“Thank you, Manny. for being the heart and soul of the Downtown Soccer League for so many years,” former league president Bill Bialosky said before presenting d’Almeida with a plaque. “We, and all the children in Lower Manhattan, salute you for setting such a fine example and sharing so much of your time, energy and passion with all of us.”

“We are eternally grateful to you,” said league Vice President Troy Washington, who also spoke at the ceremony. “I say that first as a parent who has watched you teach my children to learn and love the sport, and as a league officer who has seen first hand what an outsize impact you’ve had on our community.”

“Thank you, Manny!” children called out to their former ref and coach.

“I’ve gotta thank you, really,” replied d’Almeida, who came to the league with deep experience as a player, coach and referee. “It has been such a pleasure playing with you. And learning from you. I learned a lot from you. More than you learned from me.“

Turning to this reporter, he added, “They have kept me healthy and kept me coaching and playing. The kids have really helped me along. I have such pleasure, such joy, and that keeps me young and going.”

Still going, in fact, when he gets to Scottsdale. “My daughter lined up some kids for me to coach,” he said.

That afternoon there were more than a few wishful expressions that d’Almeida will be back on the fields one day. League president Eileen Connaughton Montague was in self-quarantine on Saturday, so she watched the ceremony from her car on West Street. But in a telephone interview later, she recounted how she had expressed to him her own feelings. 

“This is home for you,” she recalled telling d’Almeida, “and if you ever want to come back you’re always welcome. You have a job with Downtown Soccer League forever.”